TOPEKA — The Kansas House has rejected a bill that would have allowed adoption and foster care organizations to refuse placements to gay and lesbian couples based on religious beliefs.
Senators approved the bill 28-12 Thursday after an intense debate the previous day over whether the legislation is discriminatory. But the House voted it down 58-64 just a few hours later. The bill now goes to a conference committee, where lawmakers from the House and the Senate will negotiate a final bill.
"It's sick discrimination. And these are people who can love and adopt children and are doing so. So to say it is not discriminatory, I beg to differ," said Sen. Barbara Bollier, R-Mission Hills.
Opponents also expressed fear that the bill could result in fewer adoptions. The legislation would put the needs of some child welfare providers over the children they are supposed to serve, they said.
Supporters of the bill said no one would be discriminated against and that it was needed to attract more organizations to help in adoptions.
The bill would simply put existing practice into law, supporters said.
Senate President Susan Wagle, R-Wichita, said the legislation would protect Catholic Charities and other religiously affiliated groups.
"It is not a discriminatory bill. This is the right thing to do," Wagle said.
The legislation would have prohibited Kansas Department for Children and Families and other state agencies from denying contracts to agencies that refuse placements on religious grounds. Agencies also could not be denied licenses because of a refusal to make placements.
The legislation would not apply to DCF's case management contractors, KVC and St. Francis Community Services. That would allow DCF to require its case management contractors to place with LGBT couples.
DCF supported the bill and said that it would provide an opportunity for some organizations that have had concerns in the past to work with DCF. DCF Secretary Gina Meier-Hummel promised that the agency would not discriminate.
Rep. Leo Delperdang, R-Wichita, said the bill would add additional foster care providers.
"We lack an adequate supply of foster homes because there aren't enough providers recruiting or training foster families," he said.
Rep. Linda Gallagher, R-Lenexa, said the state's child welfare task force should examine the issue. The task force has been probing DCF and its contractors for the past several months.
"I've heard a lot of concerns about potential effects of this bill from a lot of people," Gallagher said.
Some LGBT couples accused the agency of discrimination in the past under DCF's last secretary, Phyllis Gilmore. Some senators indicated they were disappointed in Meier-Hummel's support of the bill.
"Many same-sex families have not had the same freedom of what someone termed traditional families because they haven't been allowed to be foster parents in some cases. There are some inequities in the system," said Sen. Lynn Rogers, D-Wichita.
Sen. Ty Masterson, R-Andover, called the idea that families would be discriminated against false. He said LGBT couples would not be denied service, and he noted that they would always be able to go through the state's case management contractors because they would be exempted from the bill.
"Nobody is getting discriminated against. That is not what this bill's about. It's about getting kids into homes," Masterson said.